Janke Schopman has watched closely as the Indian women’s hockey team enters the Tokyo Olympics and metamorphoses into a third-placed top team in the FIH Pro League 2021-22. She was Sjoerd Marijne’s assistant coach before Tokyo and later took over as head coach.
FIH Women’s World Cup which starts on Friday, India The two are in a tight pool with England, China and New Zealand as the other contenders for the quarter-final spot.
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In this interview, Coach Jananeke assessed the Indian team and its opponents in the World Cup.
How do you assess the prospects of the Indian women’s hockey team in the World Cup?
I think if we can play the way I know we can, then we have a good chance against most teams. I think in women’s hockey, the difference between the teams is small, except in the Netherlands, because their level is much better than the rest of the teams. If we play to our potential, we have a chance to beat any team here. With Nether, it will be more difficult, you need luck.
We are in a group in which little is known about New Zealand, having not played in international hockey for almost two years, except for the Tokyo Olympics. How do you see him as a challenge for India?
I think all the teams in our pool are good and I think we are in a group where everyone can beat everyone on a good day. It is a big challenge and India will have to be careful in the case of New Zealand as not much is known about them. But every team has a certain style, a DNA, that they play for. So we know what to expect from New Zealand, but yes, we will see in their first match in the World Cup where they are, what they are doing and their level.
England, again, will be India’s biggest challenger in the group and we have had a lot of success as well as setbacks against them. How do you view his challenge after watching him play in the Pro League?
England is, of course, a very strong team and since the Rio Olympics where they won the gold medal (this is Great Britain but England at large, so many similarities), I think they are a very dangerous team, They have a lot in common when attacking a bully, they use their qualities really well. At the same time, I also know that this is a team that you can compete in and do the same level of work on the field, it is a team that you can play well against.
India could not play against England in the Pro League as they canceled their trip citing Covid. Do you think playing those two matches would have boosted the team’s confidence and helped them?
You can never be sure. We played those games during the Junior World Cup anyway, which meant that we might have missed out on some players. In that regard, we would not have been playing with the team that is currently here. The same is true for England as a lot of their players actually play in the Dutch league, so they would not have traveled to India regardless of Covid. So yes, that would have been good preparation. But I think Tokyo is fresh in our minds when we play them, so it’s wise to keep them fresh. His DNA is the same, his structure is the same, and he has a new coach – his new coach was as supportive as mine. A lot of things we know and we like what we know how we want to play against them. As I said at the beginning of the interview, it is more important to me that we play to the best of our ability, and that we execute our plans. Let’s see, if the other team is also good then it will be very difficult to beat them. But if we play to the best of our ability, we have a good chance of beating them as well.
Overall, how do you see the competition in the World Cup?
I think the game has grown tremendously in women’s hockey over the years. It seems to me that a lot of countries have shown that they can beat 3 or 4 conventional(s). But if you saw Ireland finish on the podium four years ago, I think the top tier of women’s hockey is pretty broad and it’s getting wider. I think Belgium is getting better, Spain is getting better and Argentina is always good. So you have this group of 6, 7, 8 countries that are pretty competitive, and I think that’s good for hockey and it makes the World Cup even more interesting. I think we could potentially see some surprises in the teams going into the quarterfinals as well.
The Pro League is just over. How happy are you with the performance of the Indian team? How happy are you with the way they ended? Is there a match, is there a situation where you think they could have done something different and the result could have been as per your expectations?
I think, in the end, you can always say it could have been better and we could have improved here. Overall, the experience of playing these games was vital to the development of our team. Our players haven’t played pressure games against top level teams for a long time. You play big tournaments but in the meantime, you depend on traveling to other countries to try and play practice matches, which is also a good experience but at the same time these games ask a question every now and then because something is at stake. I think every game has contributed to the level we are at now and yes, I think we didn’t play well in Belgium for example (India lost 2-1 and 5-0), but with That’s what it gave us an opportunity to learn from and get better at and I would like to think it was a good time for that and hopefully, we don’t have to do that and experience it now in the World Cup.
Have you set any goal for your team for World Cup and Commonwealth Games?
Not necessarily. In the sense, what you’re asking, I’m assuming it’s like a top-8 finish or whatever it may be. For me, as a coach, I know what our team is capable of because I see them every day and for me, I would look at it from that perspective. So, if we can play well at our pool game, chances are high that we will continue and then it all depends on how well you play that day, the timing and the mental side of things in the game. I’ll come in, and we’ve worked hard on that as well. So, for me it’s really going to be, ‘Can girls look the way I think they can. Can they perform the way I know they can and then let’s see what happens.
You have seen the team before Tokyo and after Tokyo you are more connected with them. How do you assess their development before and after Tokyo?
I think the basis of our performance in Tokyo was just the foundation and the level that we needed. I think what Tokyo did was to help give the players confidence that they can win an important game like against Australia (in the quarter-finals). I think my job as a coach after that has been to develop and improve his individual level and that of his team. So, I think at this point the players know better what they are good at, how they can improve themselves, and what they need to do to play for six, as I like to put it, and I want to take ownership of the field. I think it’s something that Sjoerd (Marijen, former coach) started with, but I think players now really have more ability to make their own decisions and it’s something that I’m really looking forward to seeing. I am curious Can they do it in high pressure moments and can they make their own decisions there as a unit and play to the best of their ability.
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